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The Extra Pass: Talking Blazers, Clippers, coaching with Bill and Luke Walton

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Portland Trail Blazers fans are not fair weathered. They have stuck with the franchise through some dark times. Now they are being rewarded — with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard leading the way, Portland fans are getting to witness some of the best, most entertaining basketball Rip City has seen in more than a decade.

Consider Trail Blazer legend and Hall of Famer Bill Walton one of those happy fans.

The big red head is around the game again, having gotten past the back issues that literally had him on the floor for years, and through it all  his passion for the game never died — and it is still infectious.

As is his love for Portland and his plaid-pants wearing coach Dr. Jack Ramsey, who coached the Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA title with Walton as the star.

“There’s nothing like pride,” Bill Walton told ProBasketballTalk. “I played my best basketball ever for the Portland Trail Blazers…

“So many memories, all the guys I’m still really close to. Whenever you’re part of something special, you always come back to the relationships, the personalities…

“(Coach Dr.) Jack Ramsey, he made me the best player that I ever was. His ability to take me to destinations and in directions I never even really thought were possible it was incredible. And what he did, his vision for putting the team together, we were incredibly lucky in that we had guys like Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Bob Gross.

“And we had the Blazer maniacs. Oh my gosh did they ever make it fun…”

The elder Walton and his son Luke have teamed up with Teleflora for their NBA “Send & Score” Sweepstakes — send Valentines day flowers and you and earn a chance to win a VIP trip to attend an NBA Playoff game, NBA gear and more.

Bill thinks there could be ample opportunities to attend Clippers playoff games this season — that’s another team he played for, both when they were in San Diego and when they first move to Los Angeles.

“It’s so fantastic,” Bill said of the Clippers run of success. “I’m just so thrilled for Ralph Lawler, Mr. Clipper, the voice of the Clippers. What a great friend, Ralph has taught me so much. It’s just been incredible to see what Blake Griffin and Doc Rivers, and Chris Paul… It’s great to see what’s happening with the Clippers because the fans are so deserving and have been waiting for so long.”

What do the Clippers need to get over the top in a brutal West?

“I think trading for Doc Rivers in the off-season was big because he’s a championship coach,” said Luke, who is now an assistant coach for the D-Fenders of the D-League plus is a studio analyst for the Lakers. “He knows what it takes, he will put the confidence in the players come playoff time. Just with another year of going through the playoffs like they did last year, I think they automatically get better off that. And I think Doc could have been that missing piece to take them over the top.”

“It’s all about culture,” Bill added. “There’s never been a great player, a great team, a great organization without a great leader. Doc Rivers has proven to be that championship leader to get the guys to sacrifice for the team, because you’re never going to get it done on the big scale. If you want to score and you want to be the champion and if you want to make it all happen, you have to get guys willing to sacrifice.”

Both of the Waltons played for some of the greatest coaches the game has ever seen — Bill played for six Hall of Fame coaches from John Wooden at UCLA through Ramsey and others, while Luke was with Lute Olsen at Arizona and Phil Jackson in the NBA.

Those experiences mean both think coaching is key to really winning in the NBA.

“I think it’s huge,” Luke said. “The NBA is full of the best players in the world, so what coach can get those guys to play hard, to play together, to play for each other, that’s what really makes a good coach a great coach. And I think Doc Rivers is one of those guys.”

“It’s all about the love that from a somebody who can make guys believe there is a bigger picture here,” Bill added.

He’s not a coach, but Bill’s cup is still overflowing with the love of the game. It’s just great to have him back around the game, talking hoops. And Portland.



Pacers 89, Hawks 85: The first half of this was tight, but a lot of the Hawks’ success was fueled by the 14 Pacers turnovers before the break. After the break the Pacers locked down the Hawks — Atlanta shot 30 percent in the third — plus Indy the pace took care of the ball (five second half turnovers), and with that pulled away. David West had nine of this 22 in the third, and Paul George added 18. Mike Scott had 11 of his team-high 15 in the fourth, but it wasn’t near enough. By the way, Lance Stephenson took a nasty third quarter fall and did not return, however it does not appear to be serious. Which is good news.

Timberwolves 109, Lakers 99: So the return of Steve Nash to the lineup did not help the Lakers’ defense. Who knew? This is 15 consecutive games the Lakers have given up 100 or more and Minnesota put their foot on the gas early with 38 points in the first quarter, led by 14 from Kevin Martin (who had 31 for the game). Minny led by 25 in the second quarter and while a couple times in the fourth the Lakers got it to single digits this was never in doubt. Kevin Love had 31 points and 17 rebounds, Ricky Rubio dished out 17 assists. It was good to see Nash back on the court and he dished out nine assists plus hit three of six shots in 24 minutes. Steve Blake returned also and played 32 minutes, had zero points and ruptured an eardrum (but will continue traveling with the team).

Bulls 101, Suns 92: Chicago was able to do what Indiana wasn’t — grind down to the Suns and put their offense in quicksand. At least for a half, but it was enough. The Bulls played good transition defense, they guarded the arc well (the Suns were just 8-of-28 from three) and they scored efficiently enough to remove a lot of running opportunities for Phoenix. The Bulls did a lot of that damage in the first half, but when the Suns came out on a 13-4 run early in the second it felt like they could sprint past Chicago. They didn’t thanks to strong quarters from Carlos Boozer and Mike Dunleavy, then D.J Augustin had 9 points off the bench in the fourth quarter as the Bulls answered every Suns run. Goran Dragic had 24 points to lead the Suns.

Bobcats 91, Warriors 75: Golden State’s offense hasn’t been as good as you’d expect this season and of late it’s been a mess — in their last five games the Warriors are shooting below 40 percent as a team. That reached a new low against a strong Bobcats defense Tuesday, with Golden State scoring just 75 points on 32 percent shooting. Stephen Curry was 1-of-7 from three, David Lee 3-of-13 overall. Al Jefferson was a beast inside with 30 points on the night to lead Charlotte.

Report: 76ers supporting, not blaming, Jahlil Okafor

Jahlil Okafor
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76ers rookie Jahlil Okafor fought a man in a Boston street.

The team has released a short, vague statement. CSN Philly:

“We are aware of the report and we are currently working to gather additional information. Until that time, we will have no further comment.”

But what do the 76ers really think?

Chris Broussard of ESPN:

I spoke with somebody close to him. They’ve talked to the 76ers. They’ve talked with the NBA.

The Sixers are very supportive of Okafor. They understand the situation, but they have to do their due diligence and look into it.

The Sixers are supporting him. They’re not blaming him. If they have to discipline, it still won’t sully him in their eyes.

Again, I’m told that they’re very supportive of him.

If the 76ers really support Okafor, they’ll do so publicly. Leaking their support anonymously doesn’t really move the needle.

I also find this report a little dubious, because Broussard only said he talked to someone close to Okafor. If the 76ers’ viewpoint came filtered through an Okafor rep, there could be a lot of spin – though it’s possible Broussard also spoke with someone from the team.

What choice do the 76ers have but to support Okafor, anyway? He’s a promising young player on a team that desperately needs hope. It seems he made a major mistake, but it’s not a career-ender. And as long as the 76ers are keeping him, they might as well stand by him.

However – based on what we’ve seen, which is obviously not everything – this incident should “sully him in their eyes.” He appeared to be the aggressor, and the team should be concerned by that. Perhaps, further investigation has provided extenuating circumstances, but absent new evidence, the 76ers should view him less favorably – and be proactive about helping him correct any underlying issues.

That’s the support Okafor needs from them.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.